Friday, November 30, 2012

I've Totally Made It Now

How exciting! For the article "The Autism Advantage," The New York Times selected 3 comments to highlight, and mine was one of them. It wasn't even my main comment, which was much longer, but my response to this turd eater:

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Autism: Asset?

On stage in "How To Eat Like a Child"
I always have mixed feelings when the next "big autism article" comes out. I just read Gareth Cook's "The Autism Advantage" in the NY Times.

When I started reading, I thought "Oh great, another article about an autistic kid's special superpowers that will make me feel bad that Theo doesn't appear to have any." Remember, I struggled with this topic a couple of years ago in "Theo, What Are You?"

But I'm glad I kept reading. Cook thoughtfully conveyed the spectrum of autism -- while many of those affected are suited to technical-but-tedious types of jobs, they aren't all, and nobody's running a charity (and in fact it would be a disservice to those with autism to employ them out of charity, when there is, as we are learning, a niche for many of them).

Some nights I can't sleep because I'm worrying about grown-up Theo. Other times, on glass-half-full days, I feel confident there are attributes of Theo's autism that will be assets in the workforce. While he's not robotic, he's likely to tolerate repetitive tasks as described in the article. He will be punctual, remember his duties, and adhere to rules. Incidentally, this will also make him a kickass husband.

But is there a place for him to thrive beyond rinse-and-repeat labor? When I attended a lecture by Temple Grandin, I asked her how to find that thing my son is good at. She essentially said to just keep trying everything and see what sticks.

Theo isn’t a savant; he has no knack for assembling legos or machines, nor does he play chess masterfully like the kid in the article. But he does have a beautiful (and often outrageous) imagination. We have found theatre to be a decent outlet for him; improv in particular allows him to shine. I don't know (yet) how that will translate into career skills, but at least it's something.

I almost didn't publish this post because, reading it through, I realize it sounds like I'm shortchanging Theo, and that is not my intention. There is a reason everyone is crazy about this kid. So I'll do a follow-up post on his many strengths. This post was solely based on my realistic fears about his employable skills.

It gives me chills to think of heroes of today who are impacting Theo's future; I'm pleased to see Thorkil's work showcased in the Times. His business model could open doors for those who were previously underestimated to use their skills, or mainstream the idea that people with autism have some use beyond entertaining the masses with their quirks. Gives me hope for my bug.

*If all else fails, the back-up plan is to exploit him as a model.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

When Loved Ones Leave

If you zoom in, you can see the tears.
I'd just told her, in the perkiest, most no-big-deal tone I could muster, that her friend was moving to another country. They'd known each other since baldness.

"That's bad news!" she sobbed, the saddest girl on the swings.

I snapped this picture of her private moment; I wasn't sure if it would be obnoxious to send it to my friend. I didn't want her to feel guilty, but I wanted to share this evidence of our four-year-old daughters' connection. I was sad for Melody, but moved that she could love so deeply at such a young age.

That was the second time this year that her reaction to a loved one leaving surprised me. The first was on July 4th, when I told her our beautiful Aunt Don died. We were on the subway, and she cried heavily, her head burrowed in my shoulder.
The kids wearing two of the hundreds of hats Aunt Don knitted in her last years.

In both cases -- death and a friend moving -- she asked a lot of thoughtful questions. As she struggled to understand the answers, she was comforted by promises of visits, a better place, etc., but her grief at the reality of no longer spending time with these people was still the prominent emotion.

She also cried in the appropriate places in Bambi recently -- another milestone.

If it seems odd that I'm stricken by what are probably pretty normal reactions of a little girl, remember this is a kid who never used to scare easily during movies and, thanks to having a big brother, was used to incorporating killing and crushing into imaginary play. So to see this sensitivity gene develop in the past year has been heartwarming. You don't wish sadness on your kids, but you do wish empathy and love and deep connections.

P.S. Don't worry, she hasn't become a complete ball of mush. She later saw the photos of her sobbing on the swing and scolded me, "Don't ever take a picture of me crying again!" Oops, remind me to delete this post when she learns how to search blog archives.